Thu Mar 10, 2011
It only takes a couple days of the mercury hitting above 50 to get me in a Meatwave state of mind—I'm already making lists of all that I want to accomplish this summer. Most are things I've failed to do, or failed at doing, in previous summers. Big on my list is to tackle more smoked beef. A brisket or two will be thrown in there, but I'm looking at expanding my bovine barbecue into the realm of beef ribs, short ribs, and tri-tip. This reminded me of one of those somewhat flawed experiences a few years back, when I tried my hand at short ribs done with a Chinese five-spice rub and a hoisin barbecue sauce.
Like brisket, one of the main reasons I haven't ventured too deeply into short rib country is economical. Pound for pound, short ribs can be quite steep, especially in NYC, and especially for the type of meat it is. Loaded with excess fat, it takes a lot to get this cut into an edible state, which should equate to a cheap piece of meat—like chuck—but since "short rib" has become a trendy term, they've become more out of reach for frugal cooks like myself. My first shot at them here, which had mixed results, effectively kept them at a distance for while—I don't want to spend good money for mediocrity.
This short rib recipe started with a rub that was mainly Chinese five-spice powder with some salt, sugar, and white pepper thrown in for good measure. The ribs were given an overnight in the fridge to absorb some of the flavor of the rub, something I like to do with most all of my barbecue.
One of my favorite parts of this recipe was the sauce, which out preformed the main draw of the ribs in my opinion. A mash-up of Asian flavors and American barbecue sauce, the mainly hoisin-based sauce was rich and full of unexpected elements, making it unique and a seriously delicious alternative to the normal tomato and vinegar sauces.
With the sauce made, ribs rested, and smoker at 250 degrees, it was ready for barbecue short rib action. They were smoked over cherry wood, which imparted a subtle, sweet flavor that matched the spice rub really well, although a little lost in the overall heavy beefiness.
The recipe called for these to be smoked for 2 1/2 hours, which seemed surprisingly short to me, and I was not wrong. The first to be pulled from the smoker were tough and incredibly chewy. All the flavors were right on, but it was all for naught with the meat bordering on inedible. I thought this was the end, I had failed, but I also had nothing else to do that day except sit around the smoker with some friends and beers, so I kept the rest of the ribs smoking.
As the day wore on, each passing hour brought better and better short ribs. Five hours seemed to be the sweet spot where the fat started to break down, leaving just tender, juicy, beefy meat. The ones that came out after seven hours were even better. At that point, they were eaten up so fast there was not one left to see what eight or nine hours would have been like. My answers may come pretty soon though, as short ribs are high up on my list on "must-dos" for the 2011 Meatwave, which is already filling me excitement, even if we're still two and half months off.
Five-spice Short Ribs
Adapted from Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen
3 to 4 pounds beef short ribs, bone-in
For the rub
2 tablespoons Chinese 5-spice powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground white pepper
For the Shanghai Barbecue Sauce
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup dry sherry
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar, or more to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon peeled, minced ginger
2 scallions, white and green parts minced
4-5 chunks of cherry wood
1. Combine the five-spice powder, salt, sugar, and white pepper in a small bowl. Liberally coat the ribs with the rub on all sides. Cover the ribs in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
2. Remove ribs from the refrigerator while preparing the smoker. Fire up your smoker to cook at 250 degrees. Add cherry wood and when it is lit and producing smoke, place short ribs in the smoker. Smoke for a minimum of 5 hours, or until desired tenderness.
3. While ribs are smoking, combine hoisin sauce, sherry, soy sauce, sugar, ketchup, rive vinegar, garlic, ginger, and scallions in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
4. When the ribs are done, brush them all over with sauce. Cover and continue to cook until sauce has caramelized, about 15 minutes more. Serve with remaining sauce.